Next week the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School will have its first full opportunity to discuss, and possibly begin to make, choices related to the remarkably comprehensive Imagine OPRF master facilities plan.

First, our commendations to the volunteer crew who made up Imagine OPRF. This was more than a year of hard and diligent work to dig deep into the aging, million-square-foot physical plant that is our high school. It was an assessment of current conditions. It addressed clear assumptions of necessary updates such as ADA, security, and the grouping together of special ed programs which, over 30 years of headlong growth, have been nook-and-crannied into any available space in the building. And most complicated, it worked to anticipate how changes in learning and teaching would require a remaking of classrooms and common student areas.

 The thoroughness, the creativity, and these being the times they are, the thanklessness of this work is clear to anyone who has delved into the reports generated. Imagine OPRF has done good work and they have our thanks.

Now, though, it is time for our elected officials to make the hard choices in prioritizing the work to be done and the ways to pay for the initial phases of that work. The entire master plan, phase after costly phase, will not simply be adopted by the school board next week.

Here’s our view: Prioritize the work that supports critical equity efforts. That would be remaking classrooms, building the new library, reconfiguring special ed spaces, improving common areas that allow students to use the building over more hours, invest in improved learning technology. Of course, make the building fully ADA compliant.

Add up those costs, ask the architects to determine logical sequencing of those priorities, and pay for it in cash with the albatross of the $100 million cash reserve that long-gone school boards unconscionably stole from taxpayers. 

That will be plenty to do for the next two or three years. And then revisit the rest of the Imagine OPRF plan.

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